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Bombay High Court dismisses plea by school challenging liquor licence to nearby hotel

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The Bombay High Court has dismissed a school’s appeal against a nearby hotel’s liquor licence, stating that instead of fearing bad influence from the neighbourhood, the school should prepare children for tougher battles.

A Single-Judge Bench of Justice G.S. Kulkarni observed on October 12, “If the quality of learning and inculcation of moral values in the children is to be of a standard, as what the ‘Father of the Nation’ intended to imbibe in our citizens, then the petitioner’s institution ought not to have worried at all about any student being adversely affected by any such place in the vicinity of the school.”

The bench, while allowing the transfer of FL-III (sale of liquor licence for hotels) licence of respondent’s hotel near the petitioner’s educational institution, said, “It would be more imperative for educational institutions to create students with strong moral values, so as to prepare them to face tougher journeys and challenges in life… It is an onerous obligation for an educational institution to devote itself in building a robust society by imparting creative education at the school level, which ought not to be overlooked. It is a sincere hope that these words fall on the receptive ears of the institution and the institution creates a situation for itself, that it would feel proud of its students.”

It was the case of the petitioner institution that respondent was seeking transfer of the FL-III licence which was initially granted to him for one of his hotel at some other premises. The respondent sought transfer of licence to a premise which is near to the petitioner institution. The petitioner was aggrieved by the order of Commissioner of State Excise, Maharashtra and then, Principal Secretary, State Excise Department by which the respondent was allowed to transfer the permission of sale of liquor to his premise near the institution.

The bench observed that the Collector rejected the application of the respondent. However, while rejecting the application for transfer of liquor licence the collector observed that the said institution is 450 meters away from the respondent’s place and one other gate of the institution is only 144 meters away. The aerial distance between the closest gate and the respondent premise was 95 meters. 

Furthermore, as per provisions of Rule 45(1) (c) of the Bombay Foreign Liquor Rules, a distance of 75 meters was required to be maintained and accordingly a licence could be granted to the owners of the restaurants if distance between the restaurant and the compound of the School or the religious institution was more than 75 meters. The bench also observed that another hotel having same licence is serving liquor for past 10-12 years near the educational institution and the same has no problem in that regards.

The bench also observed that though the collector has recorded each and every aspect of the issue, the collector due to undue political pressure after receiving a few letters from a local MLA and one Adivasi Shikshan Sanstha, decided to reject the transfer application of the respondent by stating that there could be a likelihood of law and order problem.

Petitioner’s counsel argued that the court needs to appoint a commissioner to verify the exact distance between the two places and further, to check the law and order situation, a fresh police report is required.

The bench had a rather distinctive approach in this case before deciding it on merits, the question that bench put upon itself was, “Whether our educational institutions are so weak that they would fear that the students would get adversely affected, if there is a restaurant having a liquor licence in the vicinity of their schools, is an issue falling for consideration in this case?”

The bench observed that though the collector had recorded the factual aspect of the case very keenly but for some reason, may be affected by the political influence, an observation was made regarding the possible law and order situation that could arise. Hence, the application for transfer of liquor licence was rejected.

The single-judge bench observed that the petitioner institution for some reason is affected by the transfer of the liquor licence of the respondent stating that it would have bad influence over the students, however, a hotel having same license is functioning near the petitioner institution for the past 10-12 years. The bench also observed that the respondent has also complied with the provisions pertaining to minimum distance as per Rule 45(1) (c) of the Bombay Foreign Liquor Rules. 

So far as contention on the law and order situation is concerned, the bench observed that the petitioner has no material from the police department to that effect, which was concurrently observed by the appellate (Commissioner of State Excise, Maharashtra) and the revisional authorities (Principal Secretary, State Excise Department) post dismissal of transfer application by local collector.

“The petitioner’s institution ought not to have formed such opinion that the education being imparted by their educational institution was so fragile that the students would get easily influenced by a restaurant serving liquor in the vicinity,” Justice Kulkarni observed.

Case Title:  Devram Sawleram Mundhe & Ors vs The State of Maharashtra & Ors.

Read the order here:

Devram-Sawleram-V-State-of-Maharashtra

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